Guest Post: Tips For Learning A Language Before Your Trip by Marcela De Vivo

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Image Courtesy of digitalart |

As I mentioned before, this year I will be posting blog posts that are specific to reader interests. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been making my way through the request and I have two more to go. This one is dedicated to reader Leshia. Leshia wanted to know the best way to learn the language of your planned destination before you go. I found the perfect travel writer for this topic! I’ll let her take it from here!

Tips For Learning A Language Before Your Trip by Marcela De Vivo

Image Courtesy of digitalart |

Image Courtesy of digitalart |

Ready for an adventure in a foreign and exotic land? Is your only hindrance from a complete immersion into a culture and country your inability to speak the language? Fear not, as learning a language before your trip can be a fun and easy experience if you have the right tools and the enthusiasm for it. Below are some pointers to get started:

One of the quickest ways to learn a language is to start off by understanding the phonetics of the language. Understanding phonetics entails knowing how many vowel sounds and consonant sounds there are in the language. For example, in English, there is the short “e” and the long “e” – such as in “bet” and “beat”, respectively.

There are also variations in pronunciation with consonants – for instance, the letter “c” is pronounced differently in the beginning of “cell” as it is in the beginning of “catch.”

Image Courtesy of digitalart |

Image Courtesy of digitalart |

Grasping a language’s phonetics and having an overview of the sounds present in that language, will make for an easier time pronouncing words and hearing variations to words. Find books or online resources that go into phonetics; you may find that you are learning a new language more efficiently than ever before.

Immerse yourself in to the language in all ways. Meet with someone locally who speaks the language or with a native of the country via webcam video services, such as Skype for daily practice sessions. Find other people in your community who have a common interest in the language or culture, ask for recommendations for learning the language.

The beauty of technology is that language acquisition is in your hands. Download a language-learning app, such as Babbel or Duolingo – you can always go back to it at your convenience. You can also tout around a written translation book (online or printed) to peruse when you have a moment to spare.

Watch TV or movies in the language – you’ll pick up colloquial or slang terms, cues from body language and facial expressions as to the context of what the people are saying. In addition, you’ll gain insight into the culture from watching a movie or TV show set in that specific country.

Image Courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee |

Image Courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee |

For even more structure and depth to your language learning, consider taking a beginning course in that language at the local community college. Some MOOCs, or massive online open courses, also offer introductory languages classes at no cost to you – some are done during a set time in the year, while others can be completed at your own pace.

Programs such as Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and Transparent Language are other options for in-depth language acquisition.

Be aware of common phrases you currently use in everyday speech that will be good to know in your travel destination. Immediately look up the translation of the word or phrase. It’s also important to consider the context of your trip.

Where will you be staying, and what will you be doing? Do you need to know hospitality-centric words for staying in a hostel or hotel, or will your stay be longer, in a vacation rental or even in a flat/condo? Will you be visiting tourists sights and shopping, or mostly going to business meetings?

Once you have a good grasp of what sort of phrases you should be learning, you can purchase audio recordings and play them in the car when you’re stuck in traffic or during your workout.

Repeat it to yourself, write it down, create note cards, place sticky notes of the word on the object around your home and make audio recordings of the phrase and associate it with a specific mental image or emotion in your head – whatever works. It really helps to get all your senses involved in an action or moment to really retain information so that you are prepared before you embark on your journey to another country.

Basic words and phrases that you will want to learn include: greetings, currency/cost and common questions, such as “where is the bathroom?”; “how do I get to this address?”; “may I have the (insert food and beverage item)?”. You should also learn common emergency medical assistance phrases, such as “I need a doctor.”

It’s important to practice as much as possible too for retention– even failing to practice for a week can make you forget and have to relearn words.

So, buena suerte/bonne chance/chúk may mắn/good luck, have fun, practice often, and you’ll be speaking a new language in no time!

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from the Los Angeles area who has traveled around the world and picked up a wide range of languages. She loves sharing what she’s learned, so connect with her on her Facebook or Twitter!


  1. Great info!! Rhonda Washington and I are going to Spain after Christmas and could use the practice. It’s been years since we’ve studied Spanish. I’m going to check out the Spanish Language MOOCs offered via MIT. Gracias!!

  2. Leshia says:

    Awesome tips! Thanks for posting Jennifer! I’m currently using the Rosetta Stone Spanish program, its been super helpful.

  3. Nice article! I agree with you. I love learning languages before/while/after traveling to a country. My last experience is a trip to Barcelona: I spent there 3 months (in summer 2012) and I could learn a lot of spanish and got completely immersed in catalan and spanish culture. It was fantastic!

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